this past week we celebrated the first Sunday of Easter on which we retold the story of “doubting Thomas.” Sermon in hand, I went to mount the pulpit aware that what I had written was not the sermon for that moment, on that day. Instead I said this:
Most of the suffering on this planet is from our own anxious thoughts. We find it hard to cross from the rough terrain of anxiety to the smooth sands of peace.
There are terrible things that happen to people. There is betrayal, slander, theft and manipulation by experts in their field. There are natural and man-made disasters health crises and economic downturns which cripple human lives every day. There is war and famine. But in the end, the greatest suffering comes form human anxious thoughts. We allow our own suffering because we engage in thoughts which we do not take time to examine. Instead, we accept the thought as true, simply because we thought it. And that acceptance of a thought as “truth” is the human version of letting the invaders in by the back door to ransack our brain-castle.
Poor Thomas had limiting beliefs he simply wanted to explore with Jesus, and Jesus was willing to explore them with Thomas. How is that wrong?
What was Thomas thinking? We do not know. All we know is that Thomas doubted, in his grief and loss and trauma of the past few days, that The Jesus he had heard about as having been scraped of skin by whips, bloody, bruised, broken, and nailed to wood to die had been raised from the dead. Was it intellectual doubt or simply grief and loss? Who knows. But what I know is that I doubt far more reasonable things than a person being raised from the dead after all that. So I have immense compassion for Thomas, and so too for myself.
I wish I doubted my thoughts more. I wish that when I thought an anxious thought, I would go ahead and ask myself Byron Katie’s examining questions, which expose the thought for what it is – just an thought:
1. Is it true?
2. Can I be absolutely sure that it is true?
3. How do I react when I think that thought?
4. Who would I be if I did not think that anxious thought?
5, What three things can I find to think which betray that anxious thought as the lie that it very well might be?
What if I, like doubting Thomas, were to simply say “This thought is causing me pain to think.” and then asked God “Show me what I need to see that I cannot now see.”
And what if God did?
And what if, as a result, I were to follow the injunction of Jesus throughout the Doubting Thomas gospel “Be peaceful.” ? What if being peaceful is a choice – a decision? What if we must put down an anxious thought in order to take up peace? And what cost would there be? The cost of letting go or resentments? The cost of letting go of being so certain? The cost of not being right about everything I am so sure I am right about?
What if I gave up certainty for curiosity and peace? What would Easter-living look like then?
The other day I lost my iPad. I was sure that I had left it at a store. Then, when they said they did not see it there, I was sure the store clerk had stolen it and was lying. I spent hours thinking this thought. Then I was sure I had seen something shifty in the thief-store-clerk’s gaze as I left that store. Then I was absolutely sure I had been stolen from and so was a victim. Then I was thinking for hours about other ways in which I was a victim…and so thoughts began to appear like cockroaches on a discarded sandwich, at night, in an ally. My brain became a dangerous neighborhood in which to wander alone.
Our iPads have a GPS function which makes it possible for a satellite to find and locate, on a map, your lost iPad. When I used that function on my laptop, I was sure that it would show my lost iPad in the home of the store-clerk-thief. And there it was, on the map, in my driveway, in my car, where I had left it.
The challenge we face as humans, as institutions, as nations is not that we doubt. The challenge is that too many are too sure of too much. What if Thomas was the only disciple, other than Mary and John, who was being honest, asking Jesus for help with limiting beliefs?
He received that help. And if you and I prayed, and listened and examined our limiting beliefs, we might get that help too. And that might be the only way peace is achieved – in our brains, in our hearts, in our families, in our churches and on this planet.